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What makes an Excellent Society GM?


Pathfinder Society GM Discussion

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In my relatively short stint with the society (read: newly minted one-star GM), I have come to realize that running a game for the Society is a somewhat different animal than running your own home game. Obviously there are the rules for organized play and the paperwork, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

In a home game you have complete control, you create the world/story/encounters; NPCs have only the life you give to them. You are fully immersed in the world, because after all you created every aspect of it. In Society play you are not creating as much as telling a story someone else has written. You don’t plan encounters, plot points, or NPC characters because these are things done for you. These are things I happen to excel at. Instead you are breathing life into another’s story, into already established NPC characters, and running combats as intended to the best of your ability.

Players at my tables have thanked me, said they enjoyed the session, but I have not been satisfied by my performance. I have walked away thinking of things I could have done better, or wondering about what extra flavor I could have infused into the scenario. It has left me feeling, well, average. I don’t want to be an average GM. I’m better than that.

So thus my question: What are those things that set apart the excellent Pathfinder Society GMs?

I’m not talking about the stuff like knowing the rules, reading the scenario multiple times, knowing the strategy and resources for all the bad guys, that’s standard practice. I’m looking for that extra little something that makes your table shine, that makes players remember the experience, that makes people want to sit at your table because they know they will have a great time. I know there are many GMs and Players with excellent ideas for thought and discussion, so lay them on me!

A couple things I have thought of recently to improve my game are to review the region write-up in the Inner Sea World Guide when preparing for a session to add a little more background flavor to the scenario. Also, review the section in the Field Guide that describes the VC your characters will be interacting with to better represent them. Is there an expanded resource somewhere that gives a more in depth description of the VCs we meet on a regular basis?

Qadira ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

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Try the Golarion wiki

Qadira ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Michigan—Detroit

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To be honest I don't think going deeper into research on Golarion impresses players very much. Sadly, the background and regional flavor have next to nothing to do with mission success. Players vary in their interests, so you aren't going to please everyone all the time. To aspire to do so is admirable.

I'm not the best one to reply to your post, since I really don't get to play much. However, I have a few games under my belt so here's my stab at it.

#1) Customize the experience. Players want their character to matter. Give the players opportunities to talk about their characters. This is best done through in-character NPC interaction. Don't just have the NPCs talk, have them react. When a PC walks into the room with a bear skull on their head, have the NPC make a remark. Be conscious of when a single player seems to be dominating the table, and have NPCs approach the quieter players' characters so they can feel involved.

#2) Story reinforcement. Many times players will say "Where do we go next?" or "Why are we talking to this guy?". Something you can do to help them, especially at loud conventions, is use player handouts or visual aids to reinforce the story. I have used index cards with a mission outline or bullet-pointed story goals. You want players to remember a recurring NPC? Practice a funny voice or accent and use it whenever he PCs interact with that individual.

#3) Eye Candy. I am so tired of basic flipmats and dry erase markers. If you want the players to talk about their PFS experience, you have got to give them better maps. Players go ga-ga for 3D terrain and props. You don't need to spend a fortune to pre-draw your maps. $5 for a roll of gaming paper and $10 for some Crayola markers is not asking much. Give them something to look at besides a table and chairs, or is that a boulder surrounded by rubble? Can you describe the room again?

Taldor *** Venture-Lieutenant, North Carolina—Asheville aka zylphryx

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1) If you can kick out accents even half way decently, decide how the NPC's will sound prior to running the scenario. After the initial NPC introduction, the player's will know who is speaking without you needing to say "XYZ says".

2) Spice up the combats with a little dramatic description ... "you catch slight of a blur as the arrow flies by you", "your axe blow misses your target but smashes through the table to his side", "the sun glints off the blade as it finds its mark in the orc's side", etc.

Grand Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, Illinois—Decatur aka TwilightKnight

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Doug Miles wrote:
I have a few games under my belt

Understatement of the year :-)

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In PFS, you can't change the mechanics, but whether you're GMing PFS or an AP, there is always fluff additions you can add to give the session more personality. I think it's pretty much the same things you do when creating your own world, you want to make the session memorable right?

Sometimes GMs share that fluff in threads dedicated to specific scenarios. For example, "The Golemworks Incident" and "Frostfur Captives" have quite a few examples of fluff, extra story, and description you can add to your session.

Adding cultural flavor is always a good idea.

Ideas for being a better PFS GM in general.:

Each GM has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It's hard to be a good GM for everyone, since every player has their own opinion on what constitutes a good GM. A GM I might like a lot, my friend might dislike.

I think if you want to become a better GM, a very good way to do that is to sometimes be a player under different (excellent) GMs. I always learn something new (sometimes what NOT to do) and the differences in style are interesting.

Another way is to have another GM be a player at your table and give you feedback (players that have never GMed typically don't have good feedback imo, if they even offer any).

And if you want to be better at GMing high level tables, you should be a player at a high level table with some power gamers first. You'll learn a LOT. Also, for high level tables I think preparation and making a cheat sheet is essential as well. (I can't live without my cheat sheets).

If you're really interested in being a better judge, there are some great threads out there.

How to be a better player: Can't be a great judge without being a great player first imo.

What makes a good GM (bookmarked to my thoughts on it)

Painlord's How to be a better judge

Preparing a scenario

How to speed up combat

Hope this helps, Jason


zylphryx wrote:

1) If you can kick out accents even half way decently, decide how the NPC's will sound prior to running the scenario. After the initial NPC introduction, the player's will know who is speaking without you needing to say "XYZ says".

2) Spice up the combats with a little dramatic description ... "you catch slight of a blur as the arrow flies by you", "your axe blow misses your target but smashes through the table to his side", "the sun glints off the blade as it finds its mark in the orc's side", etc.

Good points, but applicable for any game... the main PFS specific I can think of - from a player's point of view - is timing. Being aware of how long the adventure runs, how long the slot you're running in is, and how to make the two fit together...

Qadira ****

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a suggestion I gave on a different thread - repeated here...

Try this. Next time you judge a game, if you have the time, come up with something to add to someones chronicle. Even if it's only one person per table. Some one that it was fun to have at your table. Some little 'fluff' thing they did, or something you noticed about thier character. Add it as a note in the white space on the bottom of the chronicle. "PC receives a letter from time to time from XXX, who admires the Hero that rescued them from the slavers pen." Slap your initials on it just like it was a day job roll.

What Andoran freedom fighter wouldn't kill for that note?

Make sure it doesn't upset the game balance (that it's just Fluff), but guess what? it'll make their day. They'll remember that game, that NPC, forever. And you know what? next time they are signing up for a game - maybe they'll check out who's judging what, and you'll get a player at your table that you enjoy having there.

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nosig wrote:
Try this. Next time you judge a game, if you have the time, come up with something to add to someones chronicle. Even if it's only one person per table. Some one that it was fun to have at your table. Some little 'fluff' thing they did, or something you noticed about thier character. Add it as a note in the white space on the bottom of the chronicle. "PC receives a letter from time to time from XXX, who admires the Hero that rescued them from the slavers pen." Slap your initials on it just like it was a day job roll.

Great suggestion. I actually had a GM do that recently and I'm going to adopt the idea as well. It doesn't just have to be for NPCs, it can be a title or something you did.

Examples:
- "Fey Taunter" (this is a title based on what the PC did)
- "Gained 4 Red Mantis Heads"
- "Senzer the alchemist thanks you and is a friend for life."

Andoran *****

My advice, for what it's worth. Run a fun table. Don't get bogged down with rules, don't let one player dominate. Make sure every PC has their chance to shine.
PFS has one big thing in common with AP and home games - everyone wants to have fun. They may have different ideas of what's fun, but in the end that's why they play.
Send the players away with a smile. If they spend a good chunk of the slot laughing and joking, most of them won't even mind if they don't finish everything. They won't even mind if their character dies, as long as they had fun.
Breathing life into the NPCs is good. Even if you can't do accents you can paraphrase boxed monologues to include personal idiomatic expressions.
Putting notes on Chronicles is also good. But be careful what you put. Lots of players want to keep the Aspis badges that are frequent faction missions. Allowing that could be unbalancing in a future scenario that hinges on the PCs getting one or more badges within that scenario

On a different note, I'd say you're well above average. You've said you always feel you have done more. That in itself shows you have the right attitude to put you ahead of the game.
Take time to play some PFS games. take notes on what your GM did to make the game fun, and what they did that you didn't like. After almost 30 years of GMing I still pick up tips from other GMs. That's part of what makes it fun

Taldor *** Venture-Lieutenant, North Carolina—Asheville aka zylphryx

Funky Badger wrote:
zylphryx wrote:

1) If you can kick out accents even half way decently, decide how the NPC's will sound prior to running the scenario. After the initial NPC introduction, the player's will know who is speaking without you needing to say "XYZ says".

2) Spice up the combats with a little dramatic description ... "you catch slight of a blur as the arrow flies by you", "your axe blow misses your target but smashes through the table to his side", "the sun glints off the blade as it finds its mark in the orc's side", etc.

Good points, but applicable for any game... the main PFS specific I can think of - from a player's point of view - is timing. Being aware of how long the adventure runs, how long the slot you're running in is, and how to make the two fit together...

I considered listing it, but considered it to be part of "standard practice". That said, yes, the following are also important (but should be expected for a PFS GM):

1) Time Awareness: (this is one of my weak points, though I am getting better) ... set a timer on your phone for a 2 hour alert. It should let you know if you are good for time or need to pick up the pace and still have a decent buffer to complete the scenario).

2) Combat management: keep the combats flowing smoothly and fast paced. You can do this by:
a) telling players who is up and who is next on deck; it helps keep folks focused on the combat and helps deal with the player with a spell caster who doesn't look up spells until it is their initiative.
b) a round is 6 seconds ... if a player can't tell you what their PC is doing (or at least start telling you) in 6 seconds, then tell them they will be delaying their action until they figure out what their PC will do and move on to the next player in the initiative sequence.

3) If a rule question comes up, you are not 100% certain on the rule and looking it up will take more than 30 seconds, MAKE A RULING. If a player disputes it, have the player look it up. Looking up every rule that you are not 100% certain of will grind an otherwise fast sequence of events to a standstill. That said, if it is a situation where a PC could die, then yeah, look it up, otherwise, rule and keep the action flowing.

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Thanks guys. A lot of food for thought here.

My tables have normally finished up with at least a half hour to spare, so I think I have some time to add in some fluff.

Andoran ***

Under time management:

Don't be afraid to end an encounter early and story-tell the end of the fight. Sometimes a mook fight, for one reason or other, can just drag on, and ending it when the NPCs have obviously lost, but before they die/run away/whatever can help speed things up without affecting anything else.

Equally, while RP stuff can be fun, don't be afraid to step in and curtail a long RP session if you need to to keep the rest of the game flowing.

For example, standing around outside the Gilga Baltwin's house to natter about how she manages to do what she does is fine, for a limited time, but there are still more tasks that need to be completed, so only do it for a few minutes, then move on. Etc.

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I do think a critical aspect of being a good GM is to play - that is, play scenarios, play lots of different characters (mixing it up - an oracle, a wizard, a barbarian, a maneuver fighter, and so on). If you play from these various perspectives, you'll understand your PCs better (and in PFS, you might judge 100 different players in the course of a year), and you'll run the NPCs better.

It's a little different from "knowing the game" or "knowing the mechanics", it's being able to see the scenario you're prepping from a play perspective.

Qadira ****

David Haller wrote:

I do think a critical aspect of being a good GM is to play - that is, play scenarios, play lots of different characters (mixing it up - an oracle, a wizard, a barbarian, a maneuver fighter, and so on). If you play from these various perspectives, you'll understand your PCs better (and in PFS, you might judge 100 different players in the course of a year), and you'll run the NPCs better.

It's a little different from "knowing the game" or "knowing the mechanics", it's being able to see the scenario you're prepping from a play perspective.

+1 to this. though maybe some people can get it just "playing the NPCs".

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Ok, yes, I would file that under standard practice, but I see how some would not.

I have 6 very different characters but some classes frankly don't interest me. It's more important to play a character I like than to play a character just because it will help me understand the class.

The problem is that usually there is a shortage of GMs, but no shortage of players. I'm not going to insist on playing when a GM is needed. And I find that I enjoy GMing more than playing most of the time anyway.

David, perhaps what you are trying to get as is to prepare and run a scenario from the players perspective. Make sure you understand what they are seeing/feeling/doing/etc. The experience after all is all about them. I do try to approach my games from this perspective, I do not see myself as an adversary, I see myself as the one who tells the story, who puts obstacles in their way to be overcome, and who celebrates with them in the end when the hard battles have been won.

Indeed this is what this thread is about. What we can do to improve the experience of the plays at our tables.

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One place you might look for additional discussion on the GMing PFS topic is Painlord's thread on the subject. You'll find a link on his Paizo profile page: http://paizo.com/people/Painlord

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Chris Mortika wrote:
Try The Wiki

Fixed the link for you, the active version of the Ennie award winning wiki hasn't been on wikia for over a year

Also if you are able to listen to podcasts at work, the "Chronicles pathfinder podcast" posted up a bunch of the panels from gencon as 2 podcasts, 4 hours each... the first one has some of the "GMing 101" session, that can help you with ideas on how to get through some troubled situations


I was wondering how you guys handle broken characters? by Broken I mean level 4 does 60 damage basically a character that could do the mod alone. As a dm I find this fustrating and as a player I regretted going to the game with a broken player. What can be done to balance the game out at that point?

Qadira ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Michigan—Detroit

Aaron, are you talking about Pathfinder Society Organized Play or a home campaign?

This really belongs on a different thread, so if your question related to PFS and you are serious about a solution, then start a new thread. This is a positive thread and discussions about what's "broken" always seem to spiral downward.

Shadow Lodge **

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Every time I get up from the table I try to think about what I did well, and what I could have done better. By honestly answering those two questions, every time I judge (and of course acting on them), I get better and better.

That said, a lot of these ideas are most excellent!

*****

Euan wrote:
Every time I get up from the table I try to think about what I did well, and what I could have done better. By honestly answering those two questions, every time I judge (and of course acting on them), I get better and better.

Thanks, Euan! This is probably the most important thing any of us can do to improve our GM skills. If we can't admit (even to ourselves) that we're not perfect, we will never get better.

I would encourage every GM out there to make a list of 3 things you think you should improve to make your games better. Hang that list on your GM screen so you are reminded of those things every game. It probably won't take long until you have to find another 3 things to work on.

Grand Lodge *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Tales Subscriber

A great lot of suggestions and advice so far.

Great GMs have some aspects that ensure you remember them. But they can differ a lot between GMs.

My only addition therefore - develop your own style.

Take the advice that suits you and makes you better. Try out the advice that seems not to work with your GM style but don't feel bound by it if it doesn't work for you.

Qadira ***** Venture-Lieutenant, Michigan—Detroit

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Good Society GMs copy, Excellent Society GMs steal.

Grand Lodge ****

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Every time you run a table keep a small piece of scratch paper where you write down mechanics you didn't understand or need to familiarize yourself with.

Follow up on the list after the scenario is over.

Andoran *****

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
Doug Miles wrote:
Good Society GMs copy, Excellent Society GMs steal.

That is one of the better aspects of Conventions. I have stolen a ton of stuff from GMs. My Handouts from Kyle, Advice from Painlord, the idea Pre-Handrawn maps from a bunch of you (This one I mostly reserve for Cons only) and a plethora of other stuff.

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Aaron Dullinger wrote:
I was wondering how you guys handle broken characters? by Broken I mean level 4 does 60 damage basically a character that could do the mod alone.

First thing I do is audit. I know it takes time, I know it's a pain in the bum, but when I audit a PC that seems to good to be true, it almost always is. I think it's worth it, because if a single PC is killing everything in 1 round, it's ruining the experience for everyone.

Trouble is, I don't have enough experience with all of the classes to be able to audit them quickly. So I would probably not audit some classes.

Sczarni ** RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Euan wrote:
Every time I get up from the table I try to think about what I did well, and what I could have done better. By honestly answering those two questions, every time I judge (and of course acting on them), I get better and better.

Sounds like an After Action Review (a-a-ar in mil-speak or AAR! in pirate). When I get new players, I often use an AAR format to find out how they liked about the session and what they would like to see made better.

Qadira ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

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I can tell you what I'm working on:

1) I can keep people entertained with role-playing NPCs. (It's not just voices, although that helps.)

I am working on paying attention to the players at the table. How much do they want to interact with NPCs and how much do they want to just solve puzzles, beat up owlbears, and complete missions?

And then giving them what they want. Not every run of a scenario should be identical. It should change depending on both PC actions and what I understand to be the players' preferences.

2) I am working on making sure everybody gets a chance to shine.

I blew this at Origins last year. One of the NPCs in a rival team was a monk. One of the PCs was a monk. There *could* have been a cool one-on-one beatdown battle between the two, with the characters calling out the names of their poses and maneuvers.

I realized that as I was handing out Chronicle sheets.

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Jason S wrote:
Aaron Dullinger wrote:
I was wondering how you guys handle broken characters? by Broken I mean level 4 does 60 damage basically a character that could do the mod alone.

First thing I do is audit. I know it takes time, I know it's a pain in the bum, but when I audit a PC that seems to good to be true, it almost always is. I think it's worth it, because if a single PC is killing everything in 1 round, it's ruining the experience for everyone.

Trouble is, I don't have enough experience with all of the classes to be able to audit them quickly. So I would probably not audit some classes.

True auditing takes a lot of experience and knowledge. I've seen DMs get annoyed at generic barbarians, two-handed fighters, and animal companions starting at level 1. I've seen DMs stop the game exclaiming, "What do you mean you're doing 2d6+13 damage at level 1?!?" and then grab character sheets and stare at it for a couple minutes. And what they're dealing with is generic barbarian #10605.

If something seems overly strong, simply ask them to walk you through it. It should take less than 15 seconds for a player to state "I've got a 24 strength while raging, so +10 damage, and power attack for another +3" Or on the 27 ac at level 3, "20 from +1 plate, 1 from dex, +4 from the shield spell I said I was umding, +2 deflection from shield of faith I cast during last encounter"

I've asked players or been asked to spell out a lot of numbers, but I think less than 5% involved player mistakes with their character sheet. More commonly, players forget situational modifiers or conditions, both buffs and penalities.

Giving reminders like, "is that attack including the sickened penalty?" or "Are you including the cover bonus, or am I?" resolves most of these things.

With that said, you don't want to be overly confrontational as the overall goal is a fun, relaxed game. So be sure to ask about buffs as well as penalties, and try to have fun with it. Because if you're not having fun, the players probably aren't either.

*****

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Dragnmoon wrote:
Doug Miles wrote:
Good Society GMs copy, Excellent Society GMs steal.
I have stolen a ton of stuff from GMs. My Handouts from Kyle...

And I stole the basic concepts of my handouts from Doug.

Andoran *****

I try to bring a bit more like to my npcs than just talking when we are roleplaying and slinging dice when we are rollplaying.

~I try to describe the hit or miss in a suitable fashion that the players get some kind of idea how it might be affecting the target.

~ Combat encounters can be tense and in most cases the bad guys act like a well oiled machine, moving to flank, delaying to not get their buddy in the fireball, etc. having the npcs talk to each other in combat is a fine waty to give them a bit of flavor. However, it's when the tide turns the player's way that you can really make them amusing. Two recent examples, spoilerfied:

Devil We know 4:
The party was trying to sneak into the prison and had to get past the groups of druids and rats that were about, but ended up in a combat anyway. One druid sent his rat up to buy some time while the druids prepped. Once they were ready to go, the druid couldnt make the handle animal check to save his life to get the friggin rat to move so a druid could base, so Druid 2 got frustrated and attacked the rat, killing it, so he could move to face the PC. "I'll find you a new one later!" he yelled to his friend.

Storming the Diamond Gate:
A player used Charm Animal on the wolf in the prison area of the temple. So the wolf happily sat around while a PC sundered all 3 bows and 2 rapiers.
<After the failed sunder attempt to break the third rapier>
NPC 1: HA! Screw youGregory, I told you I was a better duelist than you!"
NPC 2: *glares and tries to attack a PC ith a broken rapier*
NPC 3: Get your lazy butt up and fight you stupid dog! *smacks wolf with his string-snapped bow*
Wolf* Attacks NPC 3 for smacking him.

~When roleplaying the npc they party is wanting to spend some time talking to, I try to use not just my words, but ym entire body to give them an idea of what all the npc is doing. If the person is tied up, my hands are linked behind my chair and dont come out unless I need to roll or they untie the person. Glare at them. Spit at them (not really spit, but act like it). Etc.

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Furious Kender wrote:
True auditing takes a lot of experience and knowledge. I've seen DMs get annoyed at generic barbarians, two-handed fighters, and animal companions starting at level 1. I've seen DMs stop the game exclaiming, "What do you mean you're doing 2d6+13 damage at level 1?!?" and then grab character sheets and stare at it for a couple minutes. And what they're dealing with is generic barbarian #10605.

Thanks? I don't mean audit the entire sheet, just an aspect of it. I did it this weekend. It took 2 minutes. The player justifies the numbers, I don't just look at the sheet myself. It's also good for me if I'm wrong, because I learn something. Sorry, maybe I wasn't clear, any audit is done with the player explaining the numbers. It would be horrible otherwise. So far I've caught a mistake in almost every single one. There are still players out there using the old version of Heirloom weapon believe it or not.

Qadira ***** RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Jason S, there are player characters being played under the Beta rules. Running with an old version of a feat isn't surprising at all.

(I wouldn't expect every player to check the FAQ every time she buys a feat.)

It's usually possible to spin those spot checks as a good thing. "Wow! 4d6 + 26 damage?! How do you manage that?"

[player explains]

(nods) "Good for you; I'm impressed. And so is that owlbear."

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It's a trait and they're supposed to be playing PF, not beta. I'd be surprised if any player would think it's ok to play a beta build. My point is, I almost always find an error (often in their favor actually).

**

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I realize I am late to this, prolly 'cause I only read these forums about once a month or so, but I'm gonna jump in anyway.

Best quality of a GM? Patience, with a heaping dose of "benefit of the doubt."

Maybe it is the somewhat narrowed view of reading the forums and the avg. level of expertise here being much higher than the PFS at large, but please understand players by and large don't intend to cheat. I see lots of references to how to limit player cheating every once in a while. People don't like playing under suspicion.

Sometimes I even *try* to follow the most updated rulings, etc. and I do stuff that is wrong pretty much all the time. I can only imagine the insurmountable mountain of info. a true casual gamer (who doesn't follow all this stuff) is unable to know due to lack of such time investment.

As far as patience, I am referring to personalities. I am really trying to not sound accusatory here, but I am almost certain some are going to get defensive no matter how I word it, so I guess I will just say it.

There are bubbles and cliques in PFS. There are people in those bubbles and cliques telling each other what they want to hear, which does little but reinforce the bubbles. It drives some other players away (the players that don't "fit" in play style or manner). I'm not going to get into a 14 page discussion about it -- I'm only going to say that after almost 35 years of playing some version of this game, everyone needs to step back outside the bubble and look at things objectively once in a while.

Even in my local game group (which has up to ~40 people who could show to play but we average about 1/4-1/3 of that) we have people who won't/don't/can't play with other people in the group because they don't like "their style of play" read: personality.

The PFS is not so large (at least in my area/experience) that we can afford to be exclusionary. I am not referring to the design of the OP campaign as a whole, but rather the cliquish nature of some of the people in it.

(Don't get me wrong, this is likely the best OP gaming experience I have had and it has at its core people who really love the game itself, as opposed to people who just want power and control, so that in itself is refreshing.)

But the larger point I'd like to make is "please give the players the benefit of the doubt."

This applies everywhere. In-scenario situations would be akin to looting every fallen enemy along the way and searching every corner of every room as S.O.P. and then the GM filling out chronicles later telling them,

"You forgot to mention you were searching area 14d, the SOUTH cavern fissure and that is where this glowy was so I am crossing it off."

It is this "gotcha" style of play I would like to see eliminated.

Table talking during scenarios and time limits on turns is another one. Players are not their PCs. Players do not roleplay the campfire scenes for 2-3 hours before bedtime, nor the 3 days in the caravan or aboard ship where each PC would discuss what they do and where their healing potions are stored, or knowing that a spell caster would like to be reminded when his AoE is going to mess with the Cavalier's charge.

(This is in response to the GMing 101 document rule on "turns by committee.")

Sometimes the only time things like this can be discussed in real time is during the combat. The GM has to give the players the benefit of the doubt that professional adventurers would have discussed these things during the 99%+ of the in game time that we do not roleplay.

There is a difference between telling each other relevant bits of information and abusing the turn sequence. The GM simply must allow that a PC would know instantly what maneuver would work best if something changes a moment before he acts, but the player might take a minute to figure it out, while needing to ask questions of the other players.

Lastly, I am posting this last bit not to start an argument, only to say what my experience has been in some cases.

When the big bad dies, some GMs take it personally. No, I am not going to list names. This has happened enough to be noticeable, yet still in a small minority of games I have played.

Just like the players are not the PCs, the GM is not the NPCs. When a player uses an unexpected "auto win" maneuver and ruins your SUPER ULTRA DEATH COMBO!, as a GM I understand how hard it is to let it go and congratulate the player. I have trouble doing it myself and I have done my share of whining ("but it was gonnna do its big UBER-MASS-, aw, well, you got it") but sometimes that even adds to the players' fun.

Most of the time the GM is *supposed* to "lose." Just because I spent over an hour prepping the final fight at a higher tier and the PCs blasted through it in 4 minutes, it doesn't mean I have to be childish about it or penalize them in their treasure totals later, which I hate to say has also happened to me as a player - I only learned of it after I purchased the scenario and prepped it myself -- the error was obvious at that time and not before which is why I did not bring it up at the table.

Overall, these are fairly minor issues and not system related, but I mention them in the hopes that some might reflect. Back when I was learning to be a DM, one of the persons who taught me (back when GMs were called DMs and were "taught") told me "the Dungeon Master is above all a servant to the players. It is his efforts that determine whether a game is fun or not. Without the players, the DM has no story to tell."

We are GMs now, but the advice still rings true.

Qadira ****

wow... so, so true.

just ... wow.

+1, and a standing ovation!

***

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It hasn't really been said here, but good GMing is very closely akin to good improvisation skills.

Meaning when a player asks if they can do something say "yes, and..." Let the players do what they want, then add to that. When say that I don't mean that you say "Yes, and as a result you fall in a pool of acid". Thats not fun, and it is restricts creativity rather than engaging in it.

It makes the game more fun and it lets people feel like they are being rewarded for creative thinking.

Of course, don't take this to mean that you should allow the players to do whatever they want. What it does mean is that they get to do whatever they want within the scope of the rules.

Another general policy I have is that if there is a difference of opinion on a rule in an encounter where I am not certain I am right I typically err on the side of agreeing with the player. Again, take this with a grain of salt. But I find that the game goes much more smoothly if you just check on stuff after the fact. It also helps the player feel more useful, especially if the rule in question is a central element of the character design (power attacking cleric throwing with the magic domain ability for instance).

Just a few thoughts on what helps people be good GM's in general. For PFS specifically, I think the normal GM stuff is good and then making sure you have prepared the scenario. I think we have all had games where we were totally under prepared and just did the best we could... but it shows in the game when you are either scrambling or just making stuff up.

** Venture-Lieutenant, Denmark—Ringsted

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1: I steal a lot. There's almost always some amazing GM who has played the scenario before and has posted stat blocks, notes or other documents that helps me prepare and run the scenario. Some day I hope I'll be the one that does that.
PFS isn't just a community of players, but also of GMs, and we can really use that to help each other.

2: I read about the background and history of the scenario and the area it happens. I normally use 5-10 minutes extra to describe the background when briefing the players.
My favourite tool is the poster map from ISWG. I use it when briefing (in character as the captain) the players about the travel and mission.
When I started PFS in my local area a year ago none of us knew anything about Golarion or Pathfinder, so I bought ISWG and started feeding the others information.

3: When I, once in a while, plays instead og GMing, I try to play with a different GM each time. In that ways I hope to learn from a lot of different styles. This is especially interessting when I've GM'd the scenario.

4: I translate/rewrite the intro and the rest of the boxed text. I do that to remember the text better, so I don't have to read it aloud but can act it instead, and to insert extra knowledge about Golarion.

** Venture-Lieutenant, Washington—Seattle aka Gwen Smith

All the recommendations here are really good. I would like to add one:

Play to your strengths. Find the parts of GMing that you really excel at (ideally, these will also be the ones you enjoy), and emphasize those. Work on your weaknesses, sure, but leverage your strong areas.

At Paizo Con 2012, I was fortunate enough to have three really excellent GMs with three completely different play styles. Each of these GMs created an immersive experience in their own unique way. Using film/TV terminology, I'd describe these styles as follows:

The Character Actor: This is the guy who makes each NPC an individual, with different accents, speech patterns, attitudes, and mannerisms. The NPCs come alive, even the "extras" and every interaction is an opportunity for roleplaying. In our case, we were trying to find an inn that would accept our (bombastic, grandiose) Halfling cavalier's wolf mount: hilarity ensued.

The Set Builder: This GM puts a lot of time and effort into the maps and handouts and props. If you saw the amazing 3-D cavern map for Storming the Diamond Gate at Paizo Con, that was the perfect example of what I mean here. Using actual walls or furniture or rubble in a combat makes a big difference in the amount of meta-mechanics or "can I get around that?" that happens. I've also seen GMs mock up props of puzzles or clues and let the players mull over them.

The Show Runner: The show runner is the person responsible for keeping every detail correct and maintaining continuity from one film shoot to the next. ("What hand was I holding this in on the last take?") This GM didn't just know the rules inside and out, he took the time to review our characters before the game and get to know them also. He made sure every map was perfect, right down to the handle of the wagon, and made sure that each action in the encounters affected the setting as realistically and logically as possible. When my haunted oracle dropped her long spear, he specified exactly where it landed and drew it on the map, which let the ranger pick it up and use it two turns later. Not only did this make the setting come alive, it also made everything the characters did matter even more.

Each of these GMs had their own, admitted weaknesses ("I can't do voices" or "I get caught up in the roleplaying and lose track of time"), but because they each leveraged their unique talents, all three of these games were wonderful, immersive experiences, in completely different ways.

Shadow Lodge ***

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My single best piece of advice is to read the mission briefing VERY SLOWLY. Make sure every sentence is understood.

It is crazy easy for GMs to power through the 5 paragraphs there, even at what sounds like a reasonable pace, but it is generally always a huge amount of information for players to take in. There is a lot of flavour there, and it's too easily missed - especially by new players who are just coming to grips with trying to digest all of the very-Society-specific detail at once.

This goes double, triple, quadruple, or more for every additional wall of text you come across. Slow down and be understood.

Sczarni **

Themes are huge. Setting themes is a great way to imrpove the game play. Add extra fluff to make the game more of what the mod is trying to set. For the horror types I make a somewhat senitent mist that lures the characters. This creates a stronger emotional value on your game.

Fluff is great. Make sure the extar items you put in have no game vlaue whatsoever. Just run with it. I had a Dm in city of strangers make us include various phrases in what we said to fit in with the city.

Shadow Lodge ***

In my opinion, the things that make a grat GM, PFS or not, (but in this case a little PFS-centric), is that tey take what they have and without really going too far outside of it, tailor it to the party, present the local as a new discovery, (and for a lot of players/characters, it might very well be).

A great DM/ST/GM teaches, uses suggestive hints, and leads players, sometimes ignores the rules or the scenario if it just doesn't work, is illogical, or leads to a no-win situation. They don't let the NPC's steal the limelight, ever. They keep it hard, but not impossible, and keep an eye out for player frustration, (rather than character frustration). I personally, would rather lose or even die than have the DM go easy last minute and an NPC step in to fix the problem. That leaves the players, (again my opinion) feeling disappointed, is kind of anticlimactic, and also starts to teach players that death or failure isn't are not real threats, (which gets worse the more it happens).

A great DM will follow the players lead, to a point, focusing on the combat if that's what the charactr sheet sugest, adding a bit more RP if that's what they seem to want, or to add more details to the puzzle if that's what everyone seems to enjoy, but at the same time balancing these things out as mucha s possibl, because generally PFS draws all types.

Personally, while knowledge of the area is a plus, I would rather the DM add their own flavor, because that personalizes it to them, making for a more consistant scenario, but also allowing them to a bit more "play time" of their own. This does make it doubly important that they are familiar with the scenario and avoid any contradictions or RP traps, but, in my opinion, grants a much more classic feel to play.

Another very important trait the DM/GM/ST should develope is a sense of pacing and building off of the theme the scenario works for, and either using it (or abandoning it for their player base, say younger players in a more serious or "mature" adventure). If things are starting to drag, even a fight, fading to black with a narration and moving on can be great.

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